Nearly a year after it began, the federal corruption probe entered new regions of Cuyahoga County’s stinky bowels on Friday.
Add to the six Cleveland building inspectors already accused of taking bribes yet another assortment of alleged opportunists — this time a group much higher up the ladder of Dirty River’s old establishment. This time around, the probe’s highest targets can’t feign ignorance any longer.
J. Kevin Kelley, an ex-Parma school board president and IT manager for the county engineer and auditor — and a self-avowed buddy of the top corruption targets, county auditor Frank Russo and county commissioner and county Dem boss Jimmy Dimora — was charged by federal prosecutors with conspiracy, public corruption, bribery, mail fraud and tax violations for allegedly aiming lucrative contracts at developers who lavished him and others with lavish trips and meals, as well as hundreds in “personal services” fees to pad their guilty consciences.
Two other ex-leaders in the county engineer’s office, Daniel Gallagher (another Dimora and Russo bud) and Kevin Payne, the engineer’s office chief of staff, face corruption and conspiracy charges in U.S. District Court too. Brian Schuman, an ex-bailiff in Bedford Municipal Court, who also worked for Alternatives Agency, a Cleveland halfway house where J. Kevin Kelley was a consultant.
The court documents reveal numerous schemes by high-perched county executives to gain exclusivity for their friends.
In the Alternatives Agency matter, prosecutors allege Kelley was bribing unnamed public officials with vacation trips in return for a $250,000 contract secured through county commissioners for Alternatives Agency.
Contracts awarded for work on the county’s new computer network, a Snow Road resurfacing, the juvenile justice center and Stonebride condos are also under scrutiny. Also according to the filing made by federal prosecutors, Kelley, Gallagher and Payne accepted thousands of dollars of kickbacks in return for steering $5.26 million in contracts for the county’s new GIS computer system. Kelley also allegedly lined up for him and his buddies other kickbacks for a $1.8 million contract he was able to steer through when he led the Parma school board.
Payne and Gallagher, prosecutors say, took bribes from K & D Group in return for their support of moving the engineer’s office to K & D’s new Stonebridge project.
Payne, in return, lobbied someone unidentified by court documents who sounds an awful lot like Jimmy Dimora. K & D got their new tenant in 2003 with the graces of the county commissioners. And then, Dimora and Co. allegedly started getting use of a free condo at Stonebridge.
Court documents also accuse Gallagher of giving Dimora $2,000-$3000 for unnamed “personal services,” as well as paying $11,525 to have Dimora and his family toted around town like royalty 22 times in a limousine.
So yeah: Dimora has to be impulse eating right now, sweating gravy bullets. His office phone rang and rang.
George Forbes, Cleveland’s longest-serving and hardest-hitting Council president, came out from under his own cloud of suspicion on Friday as the first comment to a Plain Dealer story about the new indictments. (Must be nice to get caught doing something like shoplifting just before the mass murder goes down next door.): “When any of these county/city government leaders are either found guilty or plead to a lesser charge, they should automatically forfeit their generous pension plan since they were guilty when on the taxpayers’ payroll. They may plead guilty, get a 36-month sentence, pay back the $3,000, plus another $10,000 fine, and then retire with a package of $70-80k per year in pensions. They need to lose it all!”
They need old George “Foreman” Forbes all up in their grill, is what.
Predictably, county reform stalwarts (i.e. suburban Republicans) came out strong and hard and fast for some heads.
“When elected or appointed officials steal from the taxpayers, they violate the public trust,” said Rob Frost, county GOP chairman, in a statement. “ … The public need not wait for a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to conclude that an official is incapable of keeping any longer that sacred public trust. What we have seen is tremendous bureaucratic waste, abuse of patronage and malfeasance by those in power, all of which erodes public confidence and the means for essential services to be provided to our citizens. These indictments today, I believe, will not be the last; in the meantime, officials who are as yet unnamed, remain in positions of power making decisions that affect the lives, jobs and future of us all. We must remove corrupt elected officials and their appointed cronies regardless of their political affiliation. The Republican Party and I are committed to fighting for a complete county renewal and will call for the resignation, suspension or removal of all corrupt public officials of any political party.”
And with any luck for Frost, that county renewal he speaks of — emboldened by legislation in Columbus to switch Cuyahoga County to a county executive/council form of government — just might usher in some Republicans in the near future. Why shouldn’t they be invited to the pay-to-play free-for-all orgy too? They’ve earned the right. —Dan Harkins